Texans Look To Take Next Step With NFL Draft

Andrew A. McNeillCorrespondent IApril 11, 2009

HOUSTON - DECEMBER 28:  Steve Slaton #20 of the Houston Texans is tackled short of the goal line by Danieal Manning #38 of the Chicago Bears during the second half at the Reliant Stadium December 28, 2008 in Houston, Texas.  The Texans won 31-24.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Houston Texans are again trying to build off of an 8-8 season and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Texans were expected to compete for a playoff spot in the 2008 season, but a slow start, injuries to quarterback Matt Schaub, and late-game collapses did in any thought of post-season play. Anything less than a wildcard round match-up in 2009 could cause the Texans increasingly frustrated fan base to turn on the team.

Houston had an offense ranked in the top-5 in the NFL last year and one of the weaker defenses. The team's goal going into the 2009 draft should be to take players in the early rounds who can come in and battle for starting positions immediately. In the later rounds the Texans should look at players who can be developed long-term and provide depth. Spending anything higher than a fourth round pick on a player who won't be ready to contribute next season will not send a strong message to fans that 2009 is the most important season in the franchise’s short history.

With their first round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft (15th overall), the Texans will look defense. Many of the mock drafts out right now have the Texans drafting an outside linebacker with their first pick (most have them picking one of the OLBs coming out of USC -- Clay Matthews Jr. or Brian Cushing). There is talk of the Texans trading down from the 15th pick to the 18-21 range to get their Trojan. But if you know who you want to take with the 15th pick and he is valued around that spot, why would you risk trading down a couple of spots to take him later? What if you trade down to the 18th pick and get another fifth round pick out of it, but miss out on your guy? Was it worth it?

Other mock drafts are projecting the Texans to pick a cornerback with the 15th pick. With Dunta Robinson holding out of voluntary workouts because of his contract, there is some chance that the Texans could go that route, but I expect them to draft an outside linebacker who can help pressure opposing QBs.

My pick: The Texans draft OLB Clay Matthews Jr. of USC with the 15th pick in the NFL Draft.

The Texans still have holes to fill on defense with their second round pick, and will probably look to the defensive backfield. The one position that has been a weak spot every year of the Texans' history is safety. Look for Houston to try and find a ball hawking safety like Alabama's Rashad Johnson with their second round pick.

My pick: The Texans draft S Rashad Johnson of Alabama with the 46th pick in the NFL Draft.

In the third round, expect the Texans to turn their attention to the offensive side of the ball. Forever the headache, the Texans still need to bolster an offensive line that surrendered a middle-of-the-pack 32 sacks in 2008. The two major weak spots on the Texans offensive line are the right guard and center positions. Both spots are currently occupied by players, Mike Brisiel and Chris Myers, who have spent the majority of their careers on practice squads. Brisiel even spent time in NFL Europe, which should tell you all you need to know about his potential to be a long-time fixture on the offensive line.

Guard appears to be the more dire need this year and the offensive guard position in the NFL Draft is weak this year, so the Texans can look to get the first or second guard off the board with their third round pick. The Texans should look to Oklahoma's Duke Robinson (if still available) or Oregon State's Andy Levitre.

My pick: The Texans draft G Andy Levitre of Oregon State with the 77th pick in the NFL Draft.

The fourth round is a toss-up for the Texans. They have two depth needs to be filled and two picks at 112th and 122nd to use. The Texans received the 122nd pick from the Minnesota Vikings in the Sage Rosenfels trade. Houston needs help at cornerback and would also like to acquire a power running back to spell Steve Slaton.

Slaton wore down towards the end of games when he became the primary running back for the Texans and had fumble problems. A big, strong running back would allow Slaton to rest on short yardage situations and be fresh later in games.

Assuming the Texans don't draft a cornerback with their first pick, I'd expect them to use their first pick in the fourth round on a corner and their second on a power running back.

My picks: The Texans draft CB Keenan Lewis of Oregon State with the 112th pick and RB Arian Foster of Tennessee with the 122nd pick in the NFL Draft.

With their fifth, sixth, and seventh round picks (the 152nd, 188th and 223rd picks, respectively) Houston will probably go back to their offensive line and linebacking corps. There is a definite need to add depth at these spots in case of injuries.

This is a pivotal point in time for the franchise. The Texans can take the next step and become a Super Bowl contender or they can regress with a bad season and become a consistent loser. The next several months will reveal what path the Texans are on and it begins with Day One of the NFL Draft on April 25.